I talked to Minna Yost's cats.
Without the proper background information, this momentous event probably seems to be nothing more than an embarrassing admission to delirium. But it's not, and I did, and this is the story whether you want it or not.
You see, Minna was one of the two girls that I had the biggest crushes on during the 3rd grade (as did a number of my friends), and one rainy day I miraculously worked my way not only into both of their lives, but their houses as well. To understand the significance of this fact, I have to go back in time a bit, all the way to preschool. To my first "love".
Skytown, my first and perhaps best school, is a part of the First Unitarian Church of Kensington, which is a rather affluent hill-town that overlooks El Cerrito, Albany and Berkeley, California. Skytown has wooden and metal play equipment, bunnies and liquorice plants, gigantic pillows to read books on, and a two-story play house on the inside, complete with plastic carrots and baby-sized chairs. Skytown still exists, but not in the same way that it did for me when I was 2, running around with blocks in hand, or 4, reading the story of John Henry without any help. No, the Skytown that's important to me is dead, long since buried in the recesses of my heart, and even though I have pictures to look at, none of them tell of the pre-crushes that I had on all the girls, or the dreams of doom where death by train-wreck was greeted by mass mourning, and I could float above my grave and smile as everyone cried - "Oh, how we loved him so!" You know, the usual starry-eyed shit, the lonely stare that pressed on my chest from barely-conscious to post-collegic. It's true, I'm a hopeless romantic, and my first "love" is my only love, the same one that consoles and consumes me today. The faces have changed, and all are dear to me, but the concept remains the same: I'm lonely, then and now.
Well, perhaps not now. But then, back in the 3rd grade, I was slapped silly by smooth, smiling faces and all sorts of hair, by the way Minna turned our names backwards in Mrs. Lee's class, to produce the secret, sacred code that still pleases. "I'm Annim, and your Salohcin, and even though we barely know each other, turned around we're close friends." Turned around I could adore her openly, and whisper nonsense during silent reading that only she understood. Now, this bliss was temporary, of course - perhaps lasting a week at most - but while I overcame my shyness and stutter to reach out to her, and to all of the new faces that weren't around at my old school, I was happy beyond belief.
Happy when I played kickball during recess, or ran around Richmond Annex with Greg and Derek, or Demond and Spencer, getting into all sorts of trouble. There was the occasional theft - remember, shoplifting action figures and 5 cent candy really doesn't pay - but most of the time it was football-over-the-fence, let's-not-call-that-girl-yet-pretend-that-we-did, hide-and-go-seek and Freeze Tag: The Extended Version, with invisible shields and grenade launchers and magic bushes. Fun was fun, and we had more than our share of it to discover and sponge our faces with, but I still wasn't content. I wanted more.
Wanted to write a note and put it into Patricia Heuer's coat - "I like you" (which I did, anonymously, in the 4th or 5th grade - time blurs awkward pronouncements). Wanted to call Minna Yost - really call her, on the phone and everything - and be Greg smooth yet Nick shy, bringing back the turned-around world where we understood each other. I didn't know how to make this happen, but on one rainy day my feet gave up waiting for an heavenly epiphany, and walked me over to Patricia's house, as my yellow-rubber coat squeaked and my black-boots scuffed the sidewalk. I was heading towards Fairmont Elementary School, yet I was walking the Kearney St. way - her house was in my head more clearly than the theme song to Great Spacecoaster and Gary Gnu, and my toes reasoned in their dry safety that if they dragged me along with them to beside her lawn, and if I walked back and forth for 20 minutes or so, sooner or later I would be noticed, and something would happen. Well, something did happen. "What are you doing out there? Do you want to come in?" I wanted, and I did.
Little sweet snacks. Soft couch, warm feeling. I don't remember what was said, only that Pat and Minna were there, and I was talking to them, and laughing with them, and trying to stuff as much of that moment into my pockets as humanly possible, saving it for all of other stupid and dull rainy days future. I was almost out of room, when they decided to go over to Minna's house on Elm St. a few blocks away. "Would you like to come along?" I liked, and I did.
More snacks and a mother. Many chairs and another soft couch, and cats that snuggled and purred as we sat playing Sorry!. You know the game, the one that doesn't make much sense yet passes the time so cleanly, the one with stretched Hershey's kisses pieces and bold 60's graphics. Pat won and Minna won and I won, and I got to know her cats as the rain jumped back into the sky, as I looked at the mirror in her bathroom, and wondered if I was in the turned-around world or the real one. When we played it was real enough, and when I walked Pat half-way home, the final wave and yell gave me adequate acceleration to fly back up above Skytown, smiling as my friends pointed up in disbelief. "Oh, how we love him so!" I came down soon enough.
That day did and did not exist. It did exist when I saw Minna and Pat in times future, but it didn't when I actually tried to talk with them in the same way, or hazarded to brag to Greg and Derek about my accomplishment. They didn't need such tales, because they knew the phone magic and sweet talk that led to 6th grade spin-the-bottle at Johanna's house, and I didn't play - not for one second - because the girl I wanted wouldn't play either. Stalemate is the story of my love-life, and even though Minna moved away in the 4th grade, and Patricia remained nice yet increasingly distant, I was satisfied without actually winning the game. Sorry! seemed far better than most alternatives in my book.
So, what does talking to Minna Yost's cats mean to me now? It represents the possibility for wishes to actually materialize, if only on rainy days. It tells of how I have always longed for a comparable occasion to shine as completely, one that seems to come now and again, albeit for varying durations. And it reminds my turned-around self, the one that looks so awkward each morning, to listen to my feet more often, lest future dalliances go unmet due to halting shoe-steps.
For these reasons and more, I'm still playing that 3-way game of near-misses, and I don't intend on stopping any time soon.
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